Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Patents and Genes

The gene which is linked to breast cancer and other cancers, BRCA, was patented by a company named Myriad. The ACLU took them to court, the DC Patent Court, and sued to have the Patent rejected, namely you cannot patent genes.

Is this good or bad. It costs money to ascertain genetic structure, yet the gene was from a person who in turn received nothing. Myriad did something that can now be done by thousands of first year grad students. Does any of this make sense.

The DC Court threw out the Patent. An interesting analysis is presented by Noonan and is worth a read.

Noonan states:

As a reminder, the following U.S. Patents were at issue in this litigation: U.S. Patent 5,747,282, 5,837,492; 5,693,473,5,709,999, 5,710,001 and 6,033,857.They are assigned to Myriad Genetics, the University of Utah Research Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health (the '282, '001 and '441 patents); Myriad Genetics, Centre de Recherche du Chul, and the Japanese Cancer Institute (the '473 and 999 patents); and Myriad Genetics, Endo Recherche, HCS R&D Ltd. Partnership, and the University of Pennsylvania (the '492 and '857 patents). All but the '492 and '857 patents claim priority to an application filed August 12, 1994; all but the '473 patent (December 2014) and the '857 patent (March 2017) will expire (upon timely payment of maintenance fees) in 2015.

Noonan continues:

As the District Court predicts, however, this case is now headed to the Federal Circuit, which may benefit from amici curiae briefs from those stakeholders, such as major patent bar groups, universities and others, who sat on the sidelines during the District Court case.The dangers and negative consequences of a ban on gene patenting have been set out before and won't be repeated here.That doesn't make the outcome any less dangerous, or the consequences any less threatening to the biotechnology industry or our society.

There appears to be a great deal of concern in the Press over this issue on both sides. We however see merit in both sides and find this a Solomon like problem.